James talks about how Sweet Fish helps businesses add a $1 million to their sales pipeline in just 90 days through the production of niche podcasts. Niche podcasts are one way James and his team help clients reach out to their ideal clients to nurture B2B relationships, close deals, and drive revenue.
As James says, “How do I reverse engineer creating a real relationship with someone instead of just going straight to their throat with selling them something?” And James certainly puts his money where his mouth is. Within 75 days of launching his own podcast called B2BGrowth, it brought $1.2 million into his sales pipeline.
Here's a more detailed transcript of Kevin and Kyle's conversation with James Carbary:
Kyle: I'd like to welcome James Carbary on the show today. James is the founder of Sweet Fish Media, and he's based out of Orlando, Florida. And Sweet Fish Media helps companies produce niche podcasts for B2B companies. I kind of messed that up, but anyway, welcome to the show, James.
James: Hey, guys, how are you?
Kyle: Very good.
Kyle: As you said earlier, the name of the show, "Agencies Drinking Beer," sets the bar really low, so I can screw up intros and nobody cares.
James: Oh, it's totally fine, totally fine.
Kyle: Great. Well, you know, you had me on your show a few weeks back, and that was a lot of fun. So it's great that you're, you know, trading the favor, and now you're on our show.
James: Yeah man. You added a ton of value to our audience. So hopefully I can live up to the value bombs that you dropped on our show and help some agency owners out today.
Kyle: Yeah, I know. That's awesome. Maybe before we...Because we've got a really cool topic. You brought this sort of topic idea about, you know, really how to add a million to your sales pipeline in less than 90 days, and how you use podcasts and make it location based. Before we really get into that, I just wanted to kind of ask a little bit more about Sweet Fish Media, and how you started it, when you started it, and sort of more about what you guys do for clients.
James: Awesome man. Thanks for asking. So I started Sweet Fish about a year and a half ago, and really I was working for a tech startup. I was doing business development for them, and their funding dried up. They had to let me go. And I was really put in this kind of fork in the road, like I can go and try to find another start-up gig, or a corporate job somewhere, or I'd always had this itch to do something entrepreneurially. And had played in the entrepreneur pond, but had never really dove into the sea, if you will.
And so I decided, "Man, I really want to do this thing. I'm in a position in life where I can." So decided to go for it. And one thing that I had noticed when I was with the tech start-up is that, you know, I had heard all these people talking about content marketing, and how powerful content marketing was, but I firsthand had this experience of like, "Creating this content is just really freaking hard." Like, who has the time to write these really long well thought out posts?
It's just really hard to do. The stuff that Kyle is putting out for your guy's blog, I mean it just takes a ton of time and a lot of people just don't have the time to do it, even though they know that it's super impactful, and can actually drive like new leads, and new business for you. And so I was I like, "Well, I'm going to put together a team of writers and we're just going to start doing this for people." So we started doing content interviews with business owners, with marketing directors.
And we would record their thoughts on, you know, specific topics related to their industry, and then our writing team would write the content for them. So it's essentially like a content marketing shop. And then last October, so about six or seven months ago, I started trying out a strategy where we were trying to go after a specific vertical. So I launched a podcast that was a niche podcast dedicated to serving people in that vertical.
And my thought was, "If I start this podcast, it's going to position me to connect with my ideal clients by featuring them as guests on the show, and I know that once I have a relationship with them, it's going to be much easier for me to sell them on our service." Which at the time was this, you know, content marketing service. And so I launched that podcast and realized very quickly that I went from getting... You know, we had been doing cold email campaigns before, and we were getting, you know, 12 to 15% response rates, which were pretty good compared to what most people get, because the way we write our copy and our kind of philosophy around cold emails is a little bit different, and so it was a little bit more effective.
Still only getting 12 to 15% and I was like, "Man, that sucks." But when we started reaching out to people asking them to be a guest on our podcast, we were getting 80% reply rates. And I was blown away. I was like, "Oh, my gosh. Like I'm literally connecting with my ideal client, and it's like 80% of the time, this is insane." And all I had to do was launch a podcast as an excuse to like reach out to somebody.
And so we did that for a couple months. It ended up our service offering didn't end up working out with that particular vertical. So I actually decided, I said, "Hey, we're just going to switch our entire business model. We've been doing this content writing thing for a year." And I was like, "You know what? My margins, it's tough. Like I'm charging $175.00 for a blog post, and I'm just not getting the volume to really make this make sense." And so we had kind of hit a plateau with our MRR. And I thought, "Man, if we just switch our entire model and we start producing these podcasts for B2B companies, it positions our clients now to reach out to their ideal clients and create these relationships that can ultimately drive real revenue."
And so I think that's going to bleed into what we're going to talk about today, but that's kind of a background on Sweet Fish and how we got to the point where we're doing what we're doing now.
Kyle: Wow. That's awesome. I mean, so many questions there. Just one that came to mind was when you started B2B Growth, I mean it seems like you've got a good following there and a big listener base. I mean how have you been marketing that podcast?
James: That's a great question, Kyle, because one of our clients, they'll ask like, you know, "Podcasts can't be effective, because you know, if we don't have an existing audience, how do we grow our listener base?" And honestly, when we started this thing we knew. I had learned from our first podcast that audience size, for how we're using the podcast, audience size is really...I don't want to say completely irrelevant, but it just isn't the core reason why we're doing it.
We're doing it because we want to connect with awesome folks like you, and with awesome like VP of sales, VP of business development, like our ideal clients. And then also connect with guys like you that are leaders in your space, and, you know, it led to an opportunity to get to talk on your show. We want to create strategic relationships with thought leaders, influencers, decision makers, and a podcast is our way to do that.
So if just our mom and my grandma is listening to B2B Growth, you know, it still works. It's still effective. We still get to meet the folks that we want to meet, but I think one of the things that has led to our show gaining in popularity the way it has is it's an interview based show and we set our listeners up to share their specific episode with their listeners. So we email every single guest and let them know when their show goes live, and then we actually send a kind of pre-written tweet, "Hey, if you'd like to share it, here you go."
And then we repurpose a lot of our content into blog posts, and then we share those blog posts on our blog, on Medium, on LinkedIn, and then we also notify our guests when they get repurposed. So each guest that we bring on the show, and now we're doing seven episodes a week now, that's seven different people that have networks of their own sharing our podcast with their networks. And so I think that cumulative effect has really...it's kind of the compounding effect has led to, you know, quite a few people listening to the show now in the four months it's been live.
Kyle: Did you just say you do seven episodes a week?
James: Yeah, yeah. We moved to a daily rhythm, it was I guess about a month ago. We're trying to crank out as much content as we can, and connect with as many people as we can.
Kyle: Wow. What do you produce in your podcasts, I might ask?
James: Yeah, so we've actually got a very kind of systematic process. We've built a team around making sure that no one person is bearing too much of the weight. So I've got an audio engineer that all he does all day, I don't know if he's...I was using GarageBand whenever I was doing it on my own. I'm not sure of the tool he's using, but we've got kind of a systematic workflow. As soon as the interview gets done, we send it to, you know, our copywriting team, and our copywriting team, once they're done with the copy, they send it to our audio guy.
He mixes up all the audio, puts the intro/outro, all that stuff on it. And we have kind of a project manager that makes sure that, you know, everything is flowing from one stage to the next. And so that's really that kind of process and that workflow that makes our service really valuable to our clients. We know it so well, and we have the process refined so well, because we're doing it ourselves and we're doing it with a seven day a week show. When we come up alongside a client and they're just doing a weekly podcast, you know, it's like we can do a weekly podcast in our sleep at this point. Our processes, and our workflow, and our team define so well.
Kyle: Wow. I'm in awe. Yeah, it is tough for us to do a weekly podcast. I mean it's a lot of work, right?
Kyle: We don't have other people helping us though. It's basically Kevin and me. I'm in awe of a lot of stuff that you just talked about, but the one thing is just the lead volume. You need to have enough outreach, and just contacts, and relationships, like how do you find seven new guests that are actually worth talking to every week?
James: That's a great question. That's a great question. So one of the things that I think that I'm really proud of that we did, like we formalized a process for...Essentially like a sales development process. So you hear a lot of people in our space, the B2B sales space, talk about SDRs, Sales Development Reps, and we use Upwork. Which is, you know, a place where you can find international labor at more affordable rates. We're a start-up still, so we're not venture-backed.
We're bootstrapping this thing, so we have very specific criteria for who we're looking for. So looking for a VP of sales, or VP of business development, VP of sales and marketing, at companies in, you know, three specific industries. And so we basically give that criteria to our SDRs and say, "Hey, every week we need a list of 120 people that match this criteria, and then they're logging it in a spreadsheet that we share that says, "Okay, this week we're doing VP of sales in Chicago in this industry and here's the list."
And so then we use another tool called Connector from the guys at contentmarketer.io, and we send one to one emails out that come from our Google accounts, but it's software sending it so we're not having to sit behind our laptops and send 120 emails. And then basically we're just responding to those requests. And this is kind of the secret sauce in this whole strategy is that you're just trying to get someone to respond to you.
And so I think that's where a lot of B2B sales teams, that's where a lot of, you know, agencies that are doing their own outreach, I think they miss. I know I'm getting emails every day from folks that do web design and stuff. A lot of times they're overseas and the messaging is just, they try to spell out everything they do in the first email, and I just ignore it because it's useless to me.
But if someone were to shoot me an email and say, "Hey, James, see what you're doing with Sweet Fish. I'd love to have you on my show." I'd absolutely respond like, "Oh, yeah sure. I'd love to be on your show." And then from that point forward, I would have an actual relationship with them. And then once I have that relationship with them, they're now in a position to actually sell me on that web design service, or whatever the service is that their agency sells, because they've got a real relationship.
They were patient. They put in the work to actually create a legitimate relationship, and that's where I think the bulk of, you know, I think what we're going to be talking about today is is how agency owners can use a similar strategy to connect with their ideal customers.
Kyle: That's awesome. You know, this reminds me of Kevin, because Kevin has a big background in sales. When we used to run our agency together, he was the primary, you know, business development lead. And Kevin is really good at nurturing relationships. Especially where a lot of our clients were local, it would be more kind of going out to local events, and maybe you can talk more to that, Kevin. But it almost sounds like if your client base isn't local, maybe they are, but if they aren't, there's got to be another way that you can nurture those leads and provide value to them in a way that's not just you selling them.
Kevin: Yeah, exactly.
James: We use a tool called Contactually. We actually interviewed one of the co-founders on B2B Growth, and really their whole mindset behind their company is just that relationships matter and that you should...They built a tool that basically helps you cultivate those. So we can put all of our guests that have appeared on our show into a specific bucket in Contactually, and I can say, "Hey, I want to follow-up with these people every 60 days." And so every 60 days I get a reminder, and then it's just a lot of times, Kyle, it's just like doing the hard work of going, "Man, how can I actually add value to this person?"
I'm a contributor for The Huffington Post, and so maybe I could write a post that, you know, features a quote from them, or features their episode. And so that could be a way that I could add value. Maybe there's another guest that I had on the show that I could connect them with, and by making that introduction, maybe it turns into business, maybe it turns into a good partnership, or referral relationship, whatever that may be.
And I think, you know, just thinking through, "Man, how can I really add value to each relationship that I'm creating?" When that's your mindset, you're going to close new business. I'm sure that's why Kevin probably crushed it in his role with your agency, is because he's looking to add real value to people.
Kyle: You were interested in people, right, Kevin?
Kevin: Yeah, genuinely interested. I've been an entrepreneur most of my career and, you know, done a lot of different things, so usually I find a connection with people. And I can understand and relate to what they're going through.
James: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.
Kevin: And actually you touched on the fact that you have contributed to The Huffington Post, I know also The Business Insider, these very big popular websites. I'm gonna go out on a limb and assume you use the same strategies in terms of nurturing relationships with the right people in order to get accepted as a writer and a contributor for them?
James: Yeah, so we've started another podcast actually. We're just all in on this podcast for relationship building strategy. And so our other podcast is called The Content Marketing Show, and the managing editor for our show actually produces The Content Marketing Show for us. And so her entire strategy is reaching out to folks that are, you know, managing editors, or directors of marketing, for these large blogs, and featuring them on The Content Marketing Show. And then leveraging that relationship, really trying to add as much value as we can to them, and then going in and seeing if there is a way for us to contribute on their blog.
And so in just the month that we have been doing that podcast, it's led to several more, so in addition to Huffington Post, and Business Insider, and now, you know, it's Social Media Examiner. And we're going to be posting on OpenView, which is a big B2B sales blog. So this whole mentality of maybe it's a podcast, you know, maybe there's some other way that you can figure out, but I think the mindset of, "How do I reverse engineer creating a real relationship with someone instead of just trying to go straight to their throat with selling them something?" And I think if people grasp that, it'd be a game changer.
Kevin: I've never heard the terminology reverse engineering in sales, I love it. It's a great way to think about it.
Kyle: Yeah, you know, there's so much there. You're using the podcast for yourself and what you teach your clients in a sales context, but I mean really what you're talking about is influence, or outreach, and relationship building, link building, because really obviously if you make a relationship with an influencer and they mention you, or they link to your site on their blog, then you get that backlink that's so valuable for SEO. It sounds like it goes well beyond sales, but even just all the benefits that an influencer gives you.
James: Exactly, when we're selling it, when our sales team is on the phone with a prospect, we try to focus the primary benefit is, "This is going to lead to closed deals." Because the folks we're going after, that's what they care about. But when we start to touch on like, "Hey, this is going to lead to closed deals, but in addition to that, this is just going to fuel a content creation machine for you that is going to get backlinks, it's going to open up doors with influencers. I mean there's so many side benefits in addition to the fact that you're connecting with your ideal clients."
And the content you're creating, it's not just content that you've thought of, like that you and your internal team go and lock yourself in a room and you're brainstorming your content strategy. No, the content that you're writing is actually coming from the mouths of your ideal customers. So the fact that your content strategy is fueled by the exact people that you're wanting to sell to, because they're coming up with the topics, I don't come up with any of the topics for B2B Growth. But I reach out to guests, and say, "Hey, is there..." You know, we allow our guests to come up with a topic based on their background and experience.
So when I'm talking to a VP of sales and he's telling me, you know, about this issue that he had when he just tried scaling his sales team and it failed, well, when we talk about why it failed, well, I know if that VP of sales had that problem scaling a sales team, there's probably other VP of sales out there that are having the same issue. And we turn his episode into a mega-blog post. It ends up on the first or second page of Google. He's looking at, "How do I scale a sales team?" And now all of a sudden, we've got a piece of content that's going to bring him into our world a bit, and hopefully get him consuming our content, and eventually connect with him, so that he can become a client as well.
You're building one to one relationships that hopefully lead to new business. Then you're also creating content that's attracting your ideal clients, and hopefully by getting them into your content, you can eventually do business with your listeners as well.
Kyle: So, James, you had talked to me before about kind of a strategy for agency owners. So a lot of our listeners are owners or managers of small to mid-size agencies, and a lot of these companies have local client bases. So they don't do a lot of work selling across the country, or to other countries, they kind of stick mostly to servicing, like web design, development, or marketing, to their local audience. Can they use kind of the strategies you talked about with podcasts, could they use that to their own advantage locally?
James: Absolutely. That's a great question, Kyle. I'm actually itching to bring a client on board to do something like this, going after a local market. We've got somebody that's interested in doing it right now that's actually in Orlando, because I think it can be wildly effective. Because coupled with fact you can now...I think a theme for the show, you know, for an agency owner, could be something like if you live in Chicago, you could easily do a show called "Business in Chicago." Something themed in that way. And then what that does is that positions you to now reach out to every business owner, or whoever the decision maker is for you in your context and what you're selling, reach out to them and say, "Hey, I'd love to feature you on my podcast, 'Business in Chicago,' would you be up for it?"
That's a really novel and unique ask, that of the hundreds of emails that they're getting in their inbox everyday, or every week, they're probably not getting asked to be on a podcast about what business is like in Chicago. And so I think it could be wildly effective for opening doors with folks in your backyard that otherwise you'd have to go to a chamber of commerce, or you'd have to be knocking on doors. Doing a lot of peddling locally to meet and greet.
That's a great strategy too, not that that's not effective, but this is a way that you can really scale that without even leaving your home and still connecting with people that are right in your backyard.
Kyle: Well, and the great thing is that if they're local, you can have them over to your office to record. You don't even have to be a remote podcast.
James: Yep, exactly. You can do it remote for sure, but...absolutely that's a great idea man. Like, "Hey yeah, we do all of our recording here." The client that is talking to me right now, or the prospect that's talking to me right now about doing it, that's exactly what they're wanting to do is they're wanting to bring in some community influencers, people that own businesses, people that run companies, in our local area and bring them into their office and interview them right there. And by doing that, obviously, I mean you're saturating that person with your brand in a big way because they're coming to you.
Again, it's just this novel thing. Like, "Oh man, I get to be on a podcast." And so, yeah, I think that it could be insanely effective for an agency owner. I mean, just for us, Kyle, I mean going back to the fact like we mentioned how you can add a million dollars to your pipeline in less than 90 days, just to kind of come full circle on that that's exactly what we did. I mean within 75 days of us launching B2B Growth, we had $1.2 million in our sales pipeline.
Now for us, you know, our services, it's $3,500.00 a month now, and so to work with us, it's just over $42,000.00 annually for us to produce a podcast for you. And so you stack up, okay, if we're reaching out to specific people to be on our show, they're agreeing, they're on our show. Well, they don't know, they're in our funnel now. We know that as soon as their episode goes live, we're going to send them a link to the episode, and shoot them a link if they want to share it.
And then a week after that we're gonna let them know, "Hey, we repurposed your episode into a blog post." Then a week after that we're gonna initiate the sales conversation with them, and say, "Hey, so and so, you know, I was thinking about you guys today, and have you ever thought about doing a podcast for leveraging a podcast for business development?" And based on that conversation, you know, we hop on a sales call and see what it looks like for us to work together.
But it's a very organic, it's a very natural way to do sales, because I'm never on a sales call with somebody that doesn't already know, like, and trust me, because I built that credibility through the podcast by having this time. Like what we're having right now. Like we did our podcast, you know, a few weeks ago on our show, and now we're doing it here again. And like this is an opportunity for us to create a real relationship. And that's exactly what agency owners can do as well.
Kyle: And a very authentic way to get that relationship.
James: Very authentic, yeah.
Kyle: If you don't mind, I want to walk through a scenario and get your feedback. I mean I don't expect you to have all the answers right off the cuff, because we didn't prepare this, but just to give agency owners a sense for how they should start thinking about this strategy. So when we ran our company Headspace, we mainly did web design/UX, so we built websites or applications for clients. And we might have done some marketing, but mainly our core business was around design and development.
And we didn't have really a core vertical that we went after. We really should have, because it would have helped us probably grow more, and that's a lesson that we talk about a lot on this show. And we always kind of preach this to agency owners as find your niche, right? And go after that, don't try to shotgun it.
So we actually had a lot of clients at our old agency that were in the health space. We didn't really design it that way, but like we had one biomedical device, they were a company that made this like rapid HIV testing. We had the...
Kevin: Mental health.
Kyle: Yeah, teen mental health. We had the Cardio Society, or something like that. So we had all these clients that seemed to touch on medical and health, not by design to just coincidence, but then we started to think, "Well, maybe this is vertical we should go after. If this is like the kind of clients that we want, the work is good, they pay, they're good to deal with, let's go after them." So if a company came to you like that and said, "Okay, now how would we take this idea of using a podcast to nurture those leads and grow the business." You know, what are maybe some ideas that they could think about to start with in terms of how to move forward?
James: Yeah, I guess so. So if you're going after that, a specific vertical, you can always brand the show around the industry. So we've got a client, he's a motivational speaker and he's trying to get into universities all over the country. Because, you know, that's how he makes his living, is speaking in universities. And so for him, around the industry, we branded the show, so his show is called, "The Student Activity Show." And so he reaches out to student activities directors at colleges from all over the country and says, "Hey, so and so, I see what you're doing at University of Wisconsin. I'd love to have you on our podcast, 'The Student Activities Show.' Are you interested?"
Most of them say yes, and now he has a relationship with exact person that's gonna hire him to bring him on. So in the health context, you know, I don't know that space very well. I'd have to look into it, but I mean it would be something like that. Whatever the high level industry name would be, you know, "The Health Care Show." It would need to be more specific than that, but that's kind of the idea there.
So that's one direction you can go, Kyle. The other way you can go is around a specific role. When I say we do niche podcasts, like I'm not kidding. So one of the first shows that we produced was a show called, "The Senior Living CEO Show," and this client, they sold to senior living healthcare facilities, and specifically the CEOs were the person that they found was the decision maker for bringing in their kind of consulting service.
And so branded the show, you know, "The Senior Living CEO Show," and now they're positioned to reach out to CEOs of people in the senior living healthcare space. So you can go role, or you can go industry in general. So if maybe you don't have a very clear...Maybe the role of the person that's buying your service isn't clear. Maybe sometimes you're selling to a marketing director, and sometimes you're selling to an owner, and sometimes it's a COO, or whatever, then maybe you go industry with how you brand the show. But if not, man it's very specific, every time the CEO is the one selling it then you brand it after the specific role.
We just are launching another show soon called, "The PR Executive," and so this is a reputation management, kind of an SEO agency that specializes in reputation management. And so by them doing a show called, "The PR Executive," they now get to reach out to these PR firms and any executive, so whether it's the COO, CEO, VP of strategy, whatever the case may be, because we've branded the show in such a way, they can now reach out to multiple at a PR firm. And hopefully build a relationship so that they can start getting referral business from all these PR agencies that they're connecting with. Does that make sense?
Kyle: Oh yes, that's brilliant. I've always found it hard back in the past to think about content, because I think every agency should be coming out with content and creating value. And you can see the agencies that do really well, that are becoming thought leaders, like, you know, the Jeffrey Zeldmans of the world, they're very few and far between, because they're kind of making content for other agency owners, or for other designers or developers. Which is really cool and it can build you a big following, but it doesn't really necessarily get you clients until you get to that position of thought leader where even the clients outside that industry know who you are, because you're kind of a big name.
So it's always hard, but you look at a lot of agency blogs and 9 times out of 10 when I see them, they can be very dry. Very too much focused on, you know, if it's a marketing agency, they just talk about marketing, but it's not really targeted to anything. And I think this is a good strategy where they can invite somebody on their show to create content that is targeted to that client. It's not just spouting off around like new design trends for 2016, you know what I mean?
James: Yep, exactly. I mean that's, I think, like just one facet of this strategy that's so impactful. Because if you're bringing on people that you ultimately want to do business with, your ideal client, and you're letting them guide the conversation and say what they want to talk about based on struggles they've recently overcome, or things that they're learning, things that are top of mind for them right now, if it's top of mind for them, it's probably top of mind for other folks. It baffles me every time I ask a guest like, "Hey, we allow each guest to come up with their own topic, what would you like to talk about?"
They say things and I'm like, "I didn't even know that was a thing!" But, you know, it becomes one of our most popular episodes, because people in that space...I'm not a VP of sales, I own a business. And so I don't talk the same lingo. I don't know the same things. I'm not studying the same things as VP of sales are, even though I sell to them. And so by doing this now, I'm way more educated. I can talk like them even more, with every VP of sales that I talk to, you know, on the show I'm becoming more and more educated. My lingo, my verbiage, my knowledge, is shaped more and more around who my target, you know, my ideal customer, is. From so many different angles, Kyle, man it can work for you, so yeah.
Kyle: That's awesome, James. Thank you so much for that. I think our listeners are going to get a ton of value out of that, and definitely give it a try. If they want some help with it, and they want to learn more about Sweet Fish, how can they get in touch with you?
James: Yeah, so they can go to sweetfishmedia.com. We've got a really simple kind of contact form on there, or you can just shoot me an email, firstname.lastname@example.org. If they're agency owners and they're selling to other businesses, which they are, they can check out our show as well, so it's b2bgrowthshow.com. They can find it on iTunes, or just go to b2bgrowthshow.com and subscribe there.
And they can see all the content that we're putting out, and if they want to see kind of how it's being done and what the...you know, we're practitioners of this strategy ourselves, so we're not just doing it for our clients, we're doing it for ourselves. And so those are the ways that I would love for your audience to stay connected with us.
Kyle: That's awesome.
Kevin: Yeah, really it was great. One of my faves. I got a lot out of that, yeah.
Kyle: That was awesome. Yeah. Thank you so much, James, and we'll post some links in the show notes as well, but yeah, everybody should check out your site, and yeah. Amazing sales strategy I think everybody should try, so thank you.
James: Awesome guys. Well, this has been a blast, and yeah, we'll definitely have to stay connected.